David C. Driskell Center

Evolution: Five Decades Of Printmaking
by: David C. Driskell

Wednesday, October 17, 2007 - Friday, March 14, 2008


Catalogue Excerpts:

Evolution: Five Decades of Printmaking by David C. Driskell

Accompanying the exhibition is a fully illustrated, color catalog published by Pomegranate Communications. The catalog features essays by exhibition curator Adrienne L. Childs, Ruth Fine, and Deborah Willis, as well as a comprehensive checklist of Driskell's prints.

The catalogue retail price is $30 a copy. Click here to order a copy.


Adrienne L. Childs, “Reconstructing' Modernism: David C. Driskell, African Art, and the Practice of Printmaking”

Ruth Fine, “Playing in the Sand While Dancing: The Joys of Making Prints”

Debora Willis, “David C. Driskell: A Visual Response”


“Reconstructing' Modernism: David C. Driskell, African Art, and the Practice of Printmaking”



“Driskell's investment in the formal and spiritual aspects of African art, while personal and singular in many ways, is woven into the fabric of American modernism as it developed in the early 20th century. The transformation from ethnographic specimen to fine art in the western reception of African objects would have a profound affect on the development of modern art. The centrality of African art to this story has been documented, editorialized and mythologized for more than one hundred years. Termed modernist primitivism, the intersection between the “tribal” arts and European modernism has also played an important role in the development of African American art, albeit with its own unique dynamics. Following in the footsteps of artists such as Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, Driskell's Africanist sensibilities are deeply rooted in this complex history…

… Indeed, Driskell's stylistic connection to African objects is but one aspect of his syncretic methodology. For Driskell, the mask is not only an intriguing formal model, but represents his own ancestors, both African and American, ever present in his memory. In his 1986 lithograph Spirits Watching mask-like faces with the bifurcated structure and sculptural form of his earlier woodcuts dominate the composition. Dense with pattern and lyrical lines, Driskell explores the ability of the lithographic medium to produce this painterly print. While the vast majority of his figurative prints contain a solitary figure, Spirits Watching depicts five individuals. These impassive faces, vacillating between human and mask, represent the collective power of omnipresent ancestors. Time and space collapse in this image. According to Driskell, the spirits from the immediate and distant past not only watch and protect, they anticipate the future of the earthly as ancestors.”1

Spirits Watching 1986 , Offset lithograph, AP, 21.50 x 30
Brandywine Workshop

1 David Driskell, interview with Adrienne Childs, March 23, 2005, Hyattsville , Maryland

“Playing in the Sand While Dancing: The Joys of Making Prints”



“Prints may be made in multiple impressions, and they may employ methods that relate to commercially printed art reproductions. Moreover, commercial reproductions often are mistakenly referred to as “prints” rather than reproductions, even in museum sales shops. The fine art prints by Driskell that are recorded in this catalogue, however, are not reproductions, but original works of art that add significant threads to the densely woven fabric of his art. Yet, according to Driskell, “one of the most difficult things was getting people to understand that prints [are] original works [and that] “nothing was ever the same” from one impression to another. “I would experiment so everything was more mono in form...I never editioned.” 2 Driskell's point here is that most of his printed images are unique, one-of-a-kind objects. They are not part of a group of virtually identical impressions in a limited edition of a set number, as artists' prints frequently are. 3

Driskell's printmaking has functioned within two clearly defined methodological arenas. The first, which accounts for most of the work, is that of the lone practitioner, who makes the prints himself every step of the way. This is what Driskell did from the 1950s through the late 1980s, and continues to do today (although not exclusively), primarily engaging painterly methods of inking and printing that defy the possibility of producing consistent editions.”

Pine Tree , 2007, Color woodcut and collagraph, AP, 9.25 x 3.25in

2 Regarding “mono in form,” there is a distinction between monoprints and monotypes. The former are printed from a prepared matrix that is capable of printing editions. The latter are offset from flat surfaces onto which an image has been painted or drawn and only one full impression can be printed, although a few ghost impressions may subsequently be printed.
3 For contemporary prints, the size of an edition is generally documented as a fraction the lower margin of the printed sheet. The numerator records the impression number within the edition, the denominator the total number of prints in the edition, not including proof impressions.

“David C. Driskell: A Visual Response”



“Driskell is a chronicler of black life in text and image. With pen, pencil, brush, and type, he has documented the experiences of artist-models, notable events within his own family, and the faces of the anonymous. As an artist and a scholar he has spent much of his career, researching, writing, and teaching about African American artists. He has curated many notable exhibitions of African American art that have exposed the public to a new generation of artists, collectors, and educators— a field of study that previously had been largely ignored. Driskell's body of work did not assume or affirm a social message; they situated his subjects with his medium of choice and made visible a life not often interpreted in art. His portraits are reflections of his world and ours. When Driskell produced these prints, few iconic images of black subjects were displayed in museum exhibitions. It was the 1960s, a time of great social and political change in American culture and in art, an awakening of black cultural and artistic consciousness. This period, notes art historian Richard Powell, ‘signaled a dramatic shift in the mainstream art world. This change in perception acknowledged not only individual black talent, but the idea of a collective artistic genius based on race, history, and a creative drive whose source was a spirituality that, in turn, sprang from the phenomenon of cultural connections throughout the African diaspora.' ”

The Cook , 2007, Color woodcut, A/P, 7 x 5.50


The exhibition is supported, in part by the University of Maryland 's Office of the President, the Maryland State Arts Council and Prince George 's County Arts Council.